The arrival and subsequent spread of the COVID-19 outbreak throughout the US has forced multiple changes in medical school application, testing and admissions. Among those changes was a suspension of the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills exam (Step 2 CS), first in March, then extended for another 18 months, an important and understandable effort to protect both examinees and test center staff during the pandemic. In the nine months since, officials have conducted countless hours of research, assessment and gathering of input from various stakeholders in educational, regulatory and clinical fields to help them chart the future of the exam. The results thus far include adoption of a two-pronged strategy with both short and long-term changes.
“Our immediate priority is to relaunch a modified Step 2 CS exam as soon as possible… but we’ve also considered a second and separate effort that really involves an iterative multi-year strategy to continue to enhance clinical skills assessment,” said Dr. Chris Feddock, Executive Director for the Clinical Skills Evaluation Collaboration (CSEC), which administers the USMLE Step 2 CS in a recent podcast, noting that test developers are focused first on retaining what stakeholders report are the “most valued aspects” of the current test, including reliable scoring, standardized patient performances across sites, skillsets being assessed and relevance to clinical practice as well as the professional and smooth operations of test administration.
“First, the exam will continue to be focused on assessing US and foreign trained physicians who are entering supervised practice. This remains our main examinee population,” Dr. Feddock said of the primary elements that will remain the same in the test relaunch. “Second, it will continue to assess those specific sub-competencies within the USMLE physician tasks of communication in patient care.”
What will change? “We believe the modified assessment will be delivered through a remote online delivery platform with examinees interacting with standardized patients over a video,” Dr. Feddock said. “This will provide a safe and convenient platform that promotes both examinee and staff safety.”
No surprise there, as many of the virtual and online operations prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic have proven more convenient, less costly and surprisingly effective. Thus, numerous outbreak-borne policies may well continue long after the pandemic ends.
So when will the Step 2 CS resume? No one yet knows. Officials remain deep in the re-design phase with no readily available information on an implementation timeline. Though they’re hoping for a sooner-than-later decision, officials are mindful that the exam also impacts residency match timelines, school curricula calendars and temporary eligibility policy changes currently in effect for both Step 3 and ECFMG (Educational Commission For Foreign Medical Graduates) certification.
“Ultimately, we strive to relaunch the exam at a time that balances these many factors,” Dr. Feddock said.
Meanwhile, it’s never too early to prepare for your USMLE. St. Augustine, FL-based WOLFPACC can help with review courses and tutoring designed to help assure you pass your exam on the first try. Call 904-209-3140 to discuss your medical career future with an enrollment specialist today.
Photo by Andrew Neel